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The Virtues Of The Virtual Office, An Interview With Samantha Clooney

Samantha Clooney set up The Virtual Office in 2006 and is celebrating her 5th anniversary of trading on Monday 28th November. Having a solid educational start and the drive to make it work no matter what was thrown at her, The Virtual Office has gone from strength to strength with Samantha recently winning Entrepreneur of the Month.

In this interview Samantha explains the idea behind the business, her networking prowess and what happens next for The Virtual Office.

What gave you the idea to set up The Virtual Office?

I had some family members and friends who had their own business but they could never afford to take on full time or part time staff.  They always seemed to be struggling with the day to day stuff that had to be done.

I remember a good friend declaring that she was closing her business because she couldn’t get on top of things and it really became too much for her to handle.  I offered to help her out and got her organised and put a good system in place. From then on she would always ask me to help her out when she needed it.

As I got talking to a lot more of her customers, other business owners, I realised there was a trend amongst small business owners of not enough hours in the day, but not enough money in the kitty to take someone on.

What did you do before setting up your own business?

I was working full time in a good job at the time, but the job was under threat because of the economic situation.  I did a lot of research into Virtual Offices and bit the bullet and took a year leave of absence to see if I could make my own business work.  I had a degree in business and a degree in computers so I had a good base to offer higher end services than most other Virtual offices on the market.

The first year was tough but a great learning experience. I took the plunge and decided I could make this business work so I informed the company that I wouldn’t be coming back. I think it was the most empowered I’ve ever felt!

A year ago you were affected badly by client companies closing down – what happened and how did you turn it around?

Yes, back in January 2011, I came back after the Christmas holidays to find that over 50% of my clients had decided that their businesses were no longer viable in the current economic climate and had taken the decision to close their doors permanently.  It was a very hard time for me as it forced me to question whether I could continue with my own business or not.

I sat down and looked long and hard at my own business and decided I’d put too much time and effort into it to just give up now!  I used the last bit of money I had in my pocket and joined an international marketing forum which included Simon Woodroffe, Chris Cardell and Dan Kennedy. This forum really helped me to implement new ideas and keep the business going.

Tell me about being named Entrepreneur of the month?

Having successfully used the marketing forum to turn the business around, I received an email from the forum asking for people to show how they had successfully implemented the suggestions that were given.  We answered the email and within one day I received a call to say that they loved our story and had chosen us to be their March International Entrepreneur of the Month.

We were interviewed for their Business Breakthrough magazine which gave us a 3 page spread that went to thousands of businesses all over the world. We then had a lot of requests from people internationally who were thinking of setting up business in Europe and wanted to use Ireland as a base of operations. Over the following few months we helped several international companies set up in Ireland and create jobs.  This amounted to a lot more PR nationally which has really escalated The Virtual Office profile.

You are an active networker in Waterford – do you find this brings in a lot of business?

Yes definitely. I’ve been on the committee for Network Waterford for the last five years, and was President in 2010.  I can’t stress enough to business owners how important networking is to their business. It’s so important to get out there and meet other business owners as you never know where your next big customer could come from.

How much does Social Media help with attracting new business?

Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of social media marketing to our business. We have a TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn account and they work well for us.  If you look at the principle of Six degrees of separation it refers to the idea that everyone is on average approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person on the planet.

Just think what this means for businesses. If six contacts can get you connected around the world surely we can get connected to numerous new customers!

What’s next on the agenda for The Virtual Office?

Our agenda over the coming 2 – 3 years is growth. In 2011 we have established new virtual addresses in Dublin and Cork and we are currently in talks to get new offices established in London, Manchester and Birmingham.   This will help Irish customers to extend their service offerings to a wider market again.

Thanks for the interview Samantha. Sounds like it’s all looking good for The Virtual Office and much bigger and better things to come. Happy 5th Anniversary and good luck for the future.

 


Sian Phillips is the Managing Editor of TweakYourBiz.com and Content Editor on EggMarketingPR.com. Sian is also the accountant for her clients Clearwave.ie and Comserv.ie but is moving more and more into the content editing world; proofreading and editing blog posts, eBooks, novels and anything that is written. With over 25 years’ worth of experience in business and accounting Sian provides help to her clients with accounting and credit control. The other half of Sian’s day is spent working in the Social Media space; proofreading, copyediting, sharing posts and advice or conducting interviews for TweakYourBiz.com. She is a qualified Accountant with an Honours Diploma in Journalism too. http://www.tweakyourbiz.com

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Comments
  • Hi Sian, thanks for another great interview! It’s a great business model and I love the way she’s so honest about having to face up to and overcome recent challenges. Congratulations Samantha and best wishes for 2012.

  • Thanks Niall. I know Samantha to be a true professional and very hard worker. I think that is very important to making a company successful too

  • Wow, what a brilliant good news story.. Hats off to Samantha 🙂

  • Hi Everyone! thanks for all your lovely comments! It certainly does the heart good 🙂 the beginning of this year has been a very tough one, but it just got better and better as the year went on.  I think Persistence is definitely key! 

  • Anonymous

    Sian, nice interview!  You did a great job.

    I am always interested to see how many people join a mastermind group or other coaching, and transform their businesses, as Samantha describes.

    – Anita

  • Thanks Anita. It seems to be working well for Samantha. Plus just heard that an Irish Sunday newspaper saw this and have contacted her for an interview too – happy days 🙂

  • Eamonn O’Brien

    I really enjoyed your article Helen, nicely done. I’m with you on this – responding to criticism can rankle a bit but ‘fessing up to problems or mistakes quickly, honesty and offering solutions for the future strike me as good ideas. I think you cover off on 3 counts when you do this – a) you show you’re listening, b) you respond positively to look after your customers’ interests, and c) you move the story on to what you’re doing now vs where you’ve been. 

  • Your comment rounds off the post nicely there Eamonn, well put. Thank you!
    ~Helen

  • Your post is smart, but the example you use sorta bothers me, though I can see it was tongue in cheek. If it had been a real call out, then I would have questioned the one who chose to take it to a public forum when they could have dealt with you privately. This is a HUGE problem in social media, since people seem to skip over etiquette and taking issues public which need not be. I have found the reason is not usually honorable, but manipulative. I could give you story after story of people who have “called people/companies out” in public without even attempting to handle the problem in other ways. Some say it is because they get a faster response, but I hold attempting to give a person/company a bad mark publicly first is wrong. Your response was good leaving all egos in check. 

  • Hi Del
    I’m not sure why the example I used bothers you, but I didn’t want to focus on a real complaint and potentially embarrass a business owner. As you say, the example is tongue-in-cheek 🙂
    Yes it’s true that people do a “knee jerk” call out on Social Media now without attempting to resolve the issue with the business first. This is the world that we live in, so businesses have to deal with that. Many of my clients are in the tourism sector, and have to deal with poor reviews on Trip Advisor, and the 3 components of a good response are derived from dealing with actual complaints there, some of these complaints being justified, some not. As I say in the article, “The important thing to remember when formulating a response on a social media forum is that you are primarily writing it for visitors to the forum and not for the person who made the comment in the first place.” How you deal with a complaint says a lot about your business, and that is what matters in the end, rather than the complaint itself. I’m  Thanks for adding to the post Del. 
    ~Helen

  • Much of today’s business happens in traditional offices. A physical building houses workspaces to which employees commute every work day. Customers, suppliers and advertisers all go to that particular location to get or deliver goods and services. While this business model works, it involves much time and effort that can be avoided with a virtual office.

  • Jonathan Smith

    Salute you Samantha! It’s not that easy it seems, Providing virtual office service being a brand in market is never easy.

  • I always preach – rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. If you have rehearsed enough if technology fails you will know the material backwards and forwards and can go on without it.

  • The problem isn’t on the technology itself, it’s how people adjust themselves with new systems. They get disoriented, and probably too busy to learn how these things work. Let’s face it; we get introduced to new technology almost every 2 years. I remember when I first heard of cloud computing, I haven’t grasped the concept until now I started using it and I was never less than impressed since then.

  • Nowadays, we over rely on technology. Thanks for making me realize this Neil. We make technical problems as our alibis, without thinking there are some other ways to do it. After all, our ancestors had even survive and were able to communicate even without smartphones. Wonderful post. 🙂

  • Tina – Compare Hero

    Thank you so much for the opportunity Sian. And yes, you are right it is risky so one must really think twice before investing, also they should be financially secured so whatever happens to the investment they still have something to hold on and start with.




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